Born 61 years ago in Lagos Nigeria, Mr Tokunbo Aromolaran, Managing Director of VON Automobile Limited, is an accomplished business administrator, who has the brain, brine and right personality to turn around an ailing or moribund establishment.
The Volkswagen boss, who graduated with Bachelor of Science degree from University of Ife, 1975, trained in Pricewaterhouse Coopers Nigeria and UK, where he qualified as a Chartered Account. He rendered professional accounting services to Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Ernest Young, rising to position of Audit Partner and Director, Management Consultancy, before joining Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) in 1992 as a Group Head Commercial Banking. He rose to position of General Manager, responsible for the Operations of the bank – overseeing its entire back office operations.
Also, successively, as Managing Director and Chief Executive, Mr. Aromolaran turned around two ailing banks, namely Magnum Trust Bank now Sterling Bank (1995 – 1997) and Access Bank PLC. (1997 – 2000), laying solid foundation for their long-term growth.
Since appointed as Managing Director of VON Automobile in 2010, Mr. Aromolaran’s entrepreneurial spirit, coupled with his decades of accompanied financial services career, has, no doubt, resulted in a transformation, which guests witnessed last week at the Volkswagen plant’s premises.
In this exclusive chat with Motoring World’s Editor-in-Chief, FEMI OWOEYE, Mr. Aromolaran reiterated his company’s resolve to make Nigeria a hub of automobile production in sub-Saharan Africa.
MW: How does it feel bringing moribund Volkswagen plant back to what it is today?
Aromolaran: It is very satisfying, very exhilarating, because we know we have the skills, we have the resources. We have the people. What we need to do is to constructively engage them. And we can create good things even in this country. So what we have been able to do is to harness the knowledge of our partners and try to instil it in our people. And we are producing good things.
MW: While touring the plant, my finding is that your level of operation seems to have surpassed even the provision and expectation of the auto policy; you are almost doing auto manufacturing, and you’ve made no noise about it. What are you guys up to?
Aromolaran: Well, you’d discover that we actually started our assembly, even before the auto policy saw the light of the day. We had had a vision to integrate backward from just car retailing to auto assembly and manufacturing. So the policy just came at the right time to support what we were doing. We had a vision already to turn Nigeria into a cornerstone of auto manufacturing in Africa. That is our plan.
Outside of Egypt and South Africa, we think we are the next best. But we are so strategically positioned in the hub of the African continent that we can have a much larger market than either of them can. And if we have the expertise and we use our people well, we believe we can create a world class company. So we actually started before the automotive policy came into effect.
And that’s why you can see the impact of the kind of progress we have made since then. Most of our trucks and commercial vehicles are assembled from Completely Knocked Down Parts, except for the engine itself, which nobody really produces. And apart from that, he second phase of the passenger car project will also soon start using more basic starting point to bring the skills down to for production here.
MW: Throughout the assembly lines visited, all operators seem to be Nigerians. Is that the company’s policy?
Aromolaran: One of the main reasons why we are doing this and what we expect to gain from it is to try to create employment. We have the people, who have the wherewithal. We have those, who have strong creative technical skill, and we believe we can make use of them. And from that perspective, Nigerians are standing up. All the technical partners have confirmed that our people are very good, that we just need to give them encouragement, incentive to work and the training they require and they would deliver the good. And they are doing it.
MW: Please tell me about your background
Aromolaran: I am more a management person. I came from management consulting background. I used to be Managing Director of a bank, but now, the same skill used to run a bank can be used to run an assembly plant.
MW: Are you saying you never had any form of engineering experience?
Aromolaran: I have a very strong engineering background, but more a management consultant and banker than an engineer.
MW: Do you love cars
Aromolaran: I won’t be here if I don’t love cars
MW: I mean are you a car freak?
Aromolaran: I’m not a car freak, but I love cars
MW: Do you have a dream car?
Aromolaran: My dream car? It has to come from our stable
MW: No. No. I mean your dream car!
Aromolaran: Give me an Audi any day. I’m an Audi freak
Aromolaran: Its engineering is fantastic and perfect. But I love my other cars too.